Championing the JCU Lifestyle: Double Major Sierra Wharton
Sierra Wharton is a double major in Political Science and Communications (Class of 2019). Born and raised in northern Virginia, Sierra is no stranger to the expat lifestyle. She has taken part in numerous JCU clubs, including the JCU Theatre Society where she directed Christopher Durang’s Baby with the Bathwater last Fall.
What brought you to JCU?
I grew up in the suburbs of D.C. in Northern Virginia. My family has hosted exchange students since I was in elementary school. Growing up in such a diverse area and having foreign students in my home made traveling a no-brainer for me. I decided when I was 12 that I would also study a year abroad in high school. When the time came, I spent my Junior year in Cantabria, Spain. It was a fantastic experience, and I found myself longing to be abroad again during my senior year in Virginia. My parents were supportive, and we found JCU while researching accredited American universities abroad. Though I did apply to some other schools in the U.S., there was zero debate about what school I would attend when I received my acceptance letter.
What classes have given you the most in terms of personal enrichment?
I took an elective course on Free Speech that was fascinating. Other than that I loved my Screenwriting and Political Theory courses.
You’ve been a very active part of the JCU community (clubs, sports, RA, etc.). What have you learned from these experiences?
I think the biggest life lesson that I’ve learned in the past three years has been how to say ‘no’ to people and save time for myself. I am passionate about many things so I was always quick to volunteer my time for anyone who asked. However, during my third semester, I was taking 6 courses, working in the Housing Office, playing on the volleyball team, serving on the board of two clubs, and choreographing the Fall production. By the end of that semester, I was close to deciding to take the next one off because I was so stressed and upset all the time. Nevertheless, I managed to fulfill my duties, but at the end of the semester I stepped down from one club, quit volleyball, and swore to only take 5 classes from then on. Since then I have been very careful in choosing only activities that bring me the most joy, like theater and teaching English.
Tell us about the show you directed last Fall.
My favorite experience with the JCU Theatre Society so far has been directing Cristopher Durang’s Baby with the Bathwater last Fall. I had always wanted to work on this show, and it was my first time directing a full-length play. It was a great experience. I like being in productions rather than watching them most of the time, though I do prefer a good staged musical over any film.
What are your plans after graduation?
Since my year abroad in high school, I’ve wanted to teach English abroad. My plans have not changed. I hope this career will allow me to travel often and help people.
You’ve taught English at the Casa internazionale delle donne (International Women’s Center) in Rome for a couple of years now. What has that been like?
During my freshman year, through the JCU Community Service Program, I volunteered at La Casa delle Donne as an assistant to the English teacher there. I learned about the service through the JCU Community Service Office The students were so lovely, and I actually met with a few of them outside of class during the week. We would do a language exchange, so most of the Italian I learned in my first year was from that. This semester I am actually teaching the courses, which makes me very happy. Since I want to teach English after graduation, I see this as great practice. I am learning just as much from the students as they learn from me, if not more.
What do you miss most about the United States?
I grew up outside of D.C. where everything is fast and people are always running from appointment to appointment. It was some time before I fully accepted the slower pace of life in Rome. I think my favorite part of the Italian culture is how acceptable it is to bring one’s dog almost everywhere. In general, I do not miss the U.S. at all and I am much happier abroad. That being said, I love to visit my family and grade school friends and I desperately miss my dogs.
What advice would you give to incoming JCU students?
1. Arrive with patience and a good attitude. It can be tough for many students at the beginning, as it can be for any new university student. Little issues can seem like a big deal, so give yourself a good month to become acquainted with your surroundings before tackling any problems you have.
2. Get involved with the school community. One good friend can make a world of difference, and clubs really help to introduce students with common interests.
3. Do not be afraid to ask for things; worst case scenario, you’re denied, best case scenario, you get what you want. Just remember to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’
4. Remember the most important thing: your health. No test or homework is worth multiple nights of sleep deprivation while living on coffee and junk food.
5. Finally, don’t let yourself be helpless. It’s good to ask for help, but learn how to help yourself for the next time. From learning how to iron a shirt, to mastering public transport, people will want to help you. Use the helpful opportunity to acquire these skills for the future.